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Study: Variety the biggest housing need in Clatsop County

More than 86 percent of new houses not affordable to families with average income
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on November 2, 2018 12:01AM

A housing study concludes many newer homes are not affordable for families with an average income.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

A housing study concludes many newer homes are not affordable for families with an average income.

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The study identified Astoria, seen here, and Warrenton as having a sufficient supply of housing and buildable land.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

The study identified Astoria, seen here, and Warrenton as having a sufficient supply of housing and buildable land.

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A sign advertises a property for sale in Astoria.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

A sign advertises a property for sale in Astoria.

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Variety, rather than supply, is the biggest housing barrier in Clatsop County.

Consultants preparing a countywide housing study have noted sufficient housing supply and buildable land, especially in Astoria and Warrenton. More than 11,800 acres of potentially buildable land exist, though officials have cautioned that much of the property has hurdles such as wetlands, which make building more expensive.

The average household income in the county is $69,000 a year, meaning the average affordable home price is $240,000. But 86 percent of houses built in the past decade are sold for more than $300,000.

The price gap is forcing would-be first-time homebuyers toward rental units.

“That is a key takeaway,” said Matt Hastie, a housing policy specialist who has helped with the study. “Overall, there’s availability and land for housing, but there are gaps in the types of housing people need.”

Various causes have been explored, including a rise in vacation homes, economic development, regulations and municipal code quirks.

The result: houses are being sold at higher rates than what they’ve traditionally been worth. While homes are available at the $200,000 to $300,000 level — about 14 percent of the market — first-time homebuyers may be unsatisfied with the condition.

Kevin Leahy, executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources, referenced real estate listings that summarize the quality of the area’s cheaper houses.

“I would leave that to your interpretation as to what you get for that price,” Leahy said.

The region, particularly Warrenton, has seen rapid economic development. But, due in large part to a shortage of workforce housing, employers have had a difficult time finding workers.

“It’s impeding economic development,” Leahy said. “I would say that loud and clear.”

Recommendations to change tax lot sizes and build housing in high-density areas make sense, Leahy said.

“In order to have economic growth, you’re going to have to have some compromises on development,” Leahy said.

People who can’t afford to purchase a home are feeling the effects of the housing crunch as well. Since more people are choosing to rent, rental units are becoming more expensive.

“For those who can afford it, the properties for under $300,000 go pretty quickly,” said Elaine Bruce, executive director of Clatsop Community Action, a nonprofit that works with low-income residents and the homeless. “That increases pressure for everybody.”

The quality of rental properties can also be poor. One Warrenton resident, for instance, recently rented out a converted chicken coop for $650, Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

To develop affordable housing on available land, developers will need more incentives, Bruce said.

“They’re not going to develop it if it loses money,” Bruce said. “To me, that’s the biggest challenge we have.”

Over the past few months, representatives from local government and other organizations have met to discuss the housing study. Clatsop County, Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside, Cannon Beach and Gearhart approved it last year. Johnson Economics, a Portland-based consulting firm, has led the $100,000 effort.

The study has documented a number of findings and produced data — available on the county website — about the local housing situation. After hearing public input at town halls in November, the consulting firm will present recommended regulatory, zoning and code changes to the county and cities. They hope to release the recommendations by the end of the year.

“Each community has a little bit of a different nuance in terms of what is needed,” Astoria City Manager Brett Estes said, adding Astoria could change its urban growth boundary, occupancy requirements and vacation rental rules.

Cities typically have inventories of buildable lands. The study, based partially off the inventories, could allow the conversation about the local housing crunch to be less vague, Balensifer said.

“I think it’s really important to use that as a baseline. We’ve been talking about affordable housing for years and it’s like, ‘OK, what is that?’” Balensifer said. “I think there will be a few things that we can move on immediately and others we need to review.”

A similar housing study in Tillamook County produced 10 recommendations. While it is unclear what the recommendations will look like in Clatsop County, officials now have more concrete data in hand.

“I think our elected officials are more ready than ever to address this issue,” Leahy said. “I’m hopeful.”

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Town halls


Astoria, Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Judge Guy Boyington Building, 857 Commercial St. • Seaside, Nov. 13, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Seaside City Hall, 989 Broadway St.



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